October hiking in Colorado

I consider the month of October to be part of the “shoulder season” in Colorado. Cold fronts hit more frequently – every 3-4 days in the Mountains. This changes the complexion of hiking and mountaineering on the 13ers and 14ers.

I’ve experienced these rapid October weather changes over the years. Here’s a flashback to Fall 2014 and a traverse of the Maroon Bells with a coating of snow above 13,700′.

Fall 2014, Maroon Bells, Colorado. Photo Jon Kedrowski.

I remember this traverse vividly with Jon. Back in 2014 it was customary to use conditions like this as a test of mountaineering skills. Training in difficult conditions forces you to improve a wide range of skills quickly.

Maroon Bell traverse, Fall 2014. Navigating the Ledges. Photo Jon Kedrowski.

You see this “snowcone” effect often in October with new snow coating the 13ers and 14ers above a certain elevation. It can be dry and quite pleasant at lower elevations.

Meteorologically, we see significant changes above 13,000′ during the month:

  • <32 permanently by mid October above 13K
  • 15 degree drop in high temps overall
  • Most daytime temps in the 40s at 13K by mid October
  • Baseline wind speeds increase
  • Cold fronts every 3-4 days
  • Stronger gusts with cold front passage
  • Dustings of snow on 13ers/14ers

Here’s another example from October 29, 2016 with friend Ryan Kushner on one our favorites, Kelso Ridge. It had snowed an inch or two, clouds were swirling, wind was blowing to 40mph, and air temps were in the 30s.

October 2016, Kelso Ridge.

We’ve come to enjoy these conditions, strangely, over the years. Ryan seems to feel right at home. A testament to his mental fortitude.

Changing conditions like this in October force you to start taking more gear. Heavier gloves, footwear, jackets, gaiters, goggles, traction, and ice axe to name a few.

Have fun and see you on the summit!

October forecast: Loveland Ski Area

Last year Loveland Ski Area experienced its latest opening date since 1979: November 11. Each season they shoot for late October or very early November. What does this season hold?

November 5, 2020. Photo by Dustin Schaefer of Loveland Ski Area.

Here’s a list of previous opening dates.

2020: 11/11

2019: 10/25

2018: 10/20

2017: 10/20

2016: 11/10

2015: 10/29

2014: 11/1

My Forecast

Overall, temps this October at Loveland will run warmer than normal (+1F to +2F each day). Overnight lows will permanently stay below freezing after October 5th. The overriding pattern this Fall/early Winter attempting to take hold is La Nina. My official 2020-2021 winter forecast video is here.

Total October snow at Loveland: 10″ (high-end 20″)

Heaviest Period: After the 14th

Opening Date: Late October

Overnight lows <32: After 5th

10 Day Precip Outlook: Dry start to Fall

The start of Fall stays warm and dry across most of the West with high pressure in control through October 6. Drier than normal areas are shown in the brown colors.

There are two areas to watch for heavier than normal precipitation (green-blue areas). 1) British Columbia, 2) Great Lakes and Northeast. Some of that precip will fall as snow in British Columbia on the higher peaks.

Tomer hand-drawn weather features on GFS interpretation of total precipitation anomalies through October 6, 2021.

The red “L” represents lower pressures, while the blue “H” represents higher pressures. The blue line represents approximate position of the Polar jet stream.

In Colorado, October is an important month. We normally see the first freeze and first measurable snow in a number of the major cities. This indicates a shifting jet stream. Right now it’s just a waiting game.

Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin will start making snow in October and then race to see who opens first.

Dusting of snow in Colorado

Longs Peak looking good this morning with a new dusting of snow. The actual first measurable snow of the season fell on 8/19/2021.

A dusting also hit the Indian Peaks, higher parts of the Divide, Gore Range, and 10-Mile Range. The view in Grand Lake this morning from friend John Williams:

Another great photo here from Steamboat by Larry Pierce.

Snow can fall any month of the year on Colorado’s 13ers/14ers. We’ll see more frequent cold fronts in October and November – every few days. These fronts will have progressively more wind above treeline. October-January is the windy season in Colorado’s mountains. Wind gusts this morning are reaching 50mph over Berthoud Pass with air temps in the low 20s.

Berthoud Pass wind gusts 9/20/2021

My belief is that October-November will be abnormally warm and dry across Colorado’s mountains. “Real” winter may not arrive until December as La Nina kicks in.

Calendar Fall officially arrives on Wednesday (9/22).

One place I like this winter

La Nina seems likely this winter. This should position the wintertime jet stream across the northern tier of the Rockies from December through March. If you missed my full winter forecast you can find it here.

That said, one place I like this winter is Jackson Hole, WY. You might recall they did well last winter with a similar La Nina pattern in place.

Total snow 2020-2021 in Rendezvous Bowl: 524″

For context, Loveland Ski Area in Colorado’s Central Mountains recorded 287″. Loveland’s seasonal average is 422″.

I have a special place in my heart for Jackson Hole. I’ve skied there, trail run the beautiful trails on the apex of the range, and climbed the Grand and Middle.

Summer 2018.

Fall Color 2021

Peak fall color in Colorado’s mountains is on a “normal schedule”. It should occur the last two weeks of September and first week of October.

Last year, extreme drought forced peak color earlier than normal. Aspen trees were stressed and some leaves dropped early.

Take a look at the photo below from Grand Lake. It was snapped on 9/13/2021 by friend and photographer John Williams, who also has a photography shop on Main Street in Grand Lake.

Here is a rough timeline for peak color.